Give points for motivation

Giving points is really about mapping a high-dimensional performance space to one dimension – a single, simple, goal.

Football player Freddie Ljungberg needs to make hundreds of difficult, subtle choices to score a goal, but he’s not thinking “Boy, oh, boy, how do I handle all this complexity?”, he’s focused on what needs to happen in the world to get to that single, simple goal. And there’s important motivational psychology at play when he does.

Let’s see how it changes the terms in Piers’s temporal motivation theory1:


$$Motivation = \frac{Expectancy \times Value}{1 + Impulsiveness \times Delay}$$

  • Motivation: How desirable a task is.
  • Expectancy: Confidence of success.
  • Value: Importance of the task.
  • Impulsiveness: Sensitivity to delay (e.g. deadline).
  • Delay: Time to realise the outcome.

With points we get:

  • Expectancy: Increases if you get points for small tasks, because your belief that you can achieve these is high.

  • Value: This requires that the underlying outcome for which you get points matter to you – it might provide money, pride, or status.

  • Delay: It focuses on the next goal and points can be designed such that the delay is appropriate.

  • Impulsiveness: When points come regularly for smaller actions, a delay is comparatively costly, whereas if you get points once a year then a delay now makes relatively little difference.

Assuming the underlying outcome is of value, a well-designed point scheme can produce significant increases in motivation.


  1. Piers wrote about temporal motivation theory in The Nature of Procrastination: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review of Quintessential Self-Regulatory Failure. Thanks to AJATT for pointing it out.